Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Am I stupid?

That is a rhetorical question by the way.

Are the people working for the BCIS/USCIS/INS incompetent or malicious?

That one might be.

I have a number of documents (forms, receipts, etc.) from the INS/BCIS. And several of them direct me to this website , and if you go there you can see that this website just redirects you to another website. When I initially saw this I thought that it was a bit shabby and that it didn't portray an imagine of a professional, respectable government agency. However, after my extensive dealings with the many named beast which is the INS/BCIS/USCIS, I have come to the conclusion that this is in fact an elaborately constructed warning. Somebody is saying "Look we can't even be bothered to have our letters and forms direct you to the correct webpage. What do you think are the chances of us being able to deal with your question/problem?" I should have taken it as fair warning that whatever else happens from here on in, I had received fair warning that this organization was completely and totally incompetent.

As I have detailed in previous posts, I only ever have dealt with monkeys when I have had contact with the INS. There was monkey number one who messed up my name when I entered the country and then there was monkey number two who messed up my nationality when I tried to fix monkey number one's mistake.

So, I was quite surprised when I spoke to the "strangely sympathetic and almost helpful" man on their helpline on Friday. Of course I should have realised that he wasn't being helpful... no, if he ever helped anyone that would give the wrong impression... he was either being incompetent or malicious. Now I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt and I'll put him down in the incompetent column. In fact he is henceforth known as monkey number three.

Yesterday, I got up nice and early and left sleepy State College heading for the INS office in Philadelphia. I was armed with my passport, visa, DS-2019, incorrect replacement I-94 card and my I-102 form. So the journey down was pleasant enough, the rolling hills of Pennsylvania are very pretty (although it was dark as I was travelling through most of them). Of course I messed up and took I-276 instead of I-76 and added an hour long detour to my journey. But eventually I got to Callowhill St, and after 20 minutes driving around I found a spot to park the rental car.

So I wandered up to the INS office, passing all the vendors of food photos and fingerprints. You have to love the entrepreneurial nature of some people... selling photos and fingerprints from the back of a lorry outside the INS office (and no I don't mean they were stolen). Then I go through the standard metal detector, while the security guards complain to each other about how the job sucks the pay rise hasn't come through and they haven't got their new jackets, etc.

Once inside it is the standard melee of assorted foreign folks with the occasional American thrown in for good measure. So I line up in the queue for my waiting number. I get to the front and show my pieces of paper and explain my situation to a man who again was straddling that incompetent/malicious line. Once more the benefit of doubt will be extended to him and he will become monkey number four. Whilst I am standing there holding my passport he asks me what my proof of nationality is.... and I am like "Well... the passport" and he replies "Is that enough". So I'm thinking.. what do you mean is my passport enough? This is the most well respected identity document that we have...this is the document that got in the country. Anyway, eventually he gives me my ticket, number E-911, and tells me to wait until my number is called.

So I go find a seat and for next three hours I am subjected to an elaborately constructed form of torture. There a five queues A to E and up to four people manning the counter. With no more than 141 people in the waiting area, or at least the sign on the wall says that due to fire marshal regulations or something or other. Just as I sit down the call out E-905 and E-906, so I think not bad maybe I won't have to wait here too long. Now the way this form of torture works is that it tries to disorient and confuse you, whilst all time dangling the hope of having your number called at any moment. As there are five queues, this means that there are five people who are sitting on the edge of their seats as the person next in line. However to add to the confusion the queues a selected in a seemingly random order. You might have 3 E's then 8 D's then maybe a couple of B's. So even when it got to the point that E-910 had been called... I had no idea how long it would be until E-911 would be called. Plus of course, there is the standard granny at the airport check-in syndrome... in that some people, for instance me who take the minimum required time at the check-in counter...Hello, I have a flight to London, No, No, Yes, Aisle, Thank you very much.. is the standard half of my conversation at the check-in desk... whereas some people take forever. At the INS office you have the same thing magnified.. some people just take forever.... and it gets to the point where I just want to scream... "For God sake, she's already told you that four times.. can you not just accept it and fuck off"

Eventually E-911 was called and I made my way up to the counter.

"How can I help you" she asks.

"Well... there was some problem with my name... and I filled out one of these I-102 forms and sent it off... but on the replacement card my nationality is wrong... and I want to get it fixed."

"Oh. Because this is Vermont's mistake they have to fix it"


"We can only fix mistakes made by the Philadelphia office. Vermont is going to have to fix it"

"....B-but.. when I called your helpline number the gentleman I spoke to told me to come here."

"Yeah. Sorry, we can't help you"

"That's just marvellous" (laced with irony and a smile on my face)


"Thanks anyway" (also laced with irony)

So I walked in to the toilets laughed and then swore for a while, had a piss and then left.

I have a number of unanswered questions:

Why can't the Philadelphia field office correct mistakes made at the Vermont service centre? Vermont have already proved themselves to be time wasting incompetents... why am I forced to deal with them again?

Why do they have a helpline? What is the point of a helpline if in fact it doesn't help? In Britain we have something called the trade description act.. which means you can't advertise a product as one thing and actually have it be something else. Under this act the helpline would have to be renamed the waste-both-your-time-and-money-whilst-providing-no-useful-information-line.... except of course we have government helplines in the UK which are still called helplines, despite the fact that almost nobody has ever been helped by them.

Why didn't the first bloke (monkey number four) that I spoke to in the Philadelphia office, tell me they couldn't help me, instead of making me wait three hours? I'm going with he's incompetent as opposed to he's an evil, little, sadistic, malicious bastard. But I think it could go either way.

Is there any chance that Vermont will consider my new application being that I did not include a cheque for $100? If the do consider it is there any chance that monkey number two or some other monkey who works there won't manage to fuck it up this time? Is the any chance that it will take less than the two months it took last time?

Would I have got better service if I started screaming blue murder at the counter, when the lady told me she couldn't help me? Who knows. At the time I just wanted to get out of there.

With the way the dollar is performing, is it worth we staying here and working when each day I earn less and less money?

How much do London street sweepers get paid?

Could there have been a more apt song to be playing as I drove home than "Let's get retarded" by the Black Eyed Peas? Should the next line of the song be "and go work for the INS"?

Can anyone truly believe that department of Homeland Security, of which the INS/BCIS is a part, is doing it's job properly? At every single available opportunity that they have had when dealing with me... they have managed to fuck something up. And these people have a large part to play in safeguarding this nation.... I trust them as far as I could throw Pennsylvania. Are people really detained on the basis of what this group of incompetent/malicious people say.... I really hope not. But.......